General Assembly Update (Feb 27, 2012)
The eyes of the nation have been focused on Virginia. And it is not for any special recognition for job creation or economic activity as it was under the Warner and Kaine Administrations. Instead, the country has been riveted on the debate on social issues that has occurred during this session.
In the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth address, he advised Republicans not to overreach. But overreach is what we have gotten. The most recent example has been the passage of an extremely intrusive bill designed to compel women against their will to have a transvaginal ultrasound prior to an abortion. The House bill passed last week and brought a firestorm of opposition from around the country. Democrats have railed against this bill, which would require doctors to invade a woman’s body with a vaginal probe, as an unnecessary and unconstitutional invasion of a woman’s privacy rights. During our debate on the same bill passed by the Senate, the Governor, who has had this bill to review since January 10th changed his position at the last minute. He then presented new language, which we were given less than one-half hour to review prior to passage. This is not the way to carefully consider major changes in social policy. I continue to have serious concerns about this modified bill. The bill is now in the Senate, and I will continue to oppose it.
The so-called “personhood” bill, which would have granted constitutional rights to an unborn child passed the House. The Senate, however, recognizing the far reaching legal complications of the measure, voted to recommit the bill to the Senate Committee on Education and Health, essentially killing the bill for this year.
As the Democratic leader in the House, I am proud of the House Democrats who have fought hard to protect women’s health and the assault on women’s rights.
We finally were able to debate the budget on Thursday, February 23, 2012. Over the last few weeks, I have been pushing for changes in Gov. McDonnell’s budget, which included draconian cuts in the health care safety net and substantial changes in education funding. We are able to prevail in restoring many of the cuts to the safety net, including funding for the free clinics and community health centers. In addition, because of our advocacy, many, though not all, of the cuts for the school divisions and localities were inserted into the House budget. Nonetheless, I could not support a budget which diverts hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund that assists schools, public safety, and health care to fund transportation. Transportation should be funded on a user-fee approach, and the Governor has unfortunately refused to exercise sufficient leadership to fix the problem.
Due to our efforts, Charlottesville and Albemarle, will receive more money than what is in the Governor’s budget, but not as much as they received only several years ago. The result has been a greater burden on the local taxpayer and, as you can see in the debates in Albemarle County, increased pressure on the real estate tax rate. At some point, the Commonwealth needs to honor its obligations to adequately fund public education, and we will continue to fight to insure that it does so.
Thanks to everyone who participated in my telephone town hall meeting on Thursday. We had a good conversation and more questions than time to answer. I received great input from these calls and look forward to hearing more.
Thank you for this opportunity to serve you in Richmond. Your input is important to me and I invite you to share your thoughts and concerns with me on all matters before the Commonwealth. I look forward to hearing from you.